AGE AND DISEASE: Our Health, Disease and "Old Age" Are Formed on the Molecular Battlefield of Antioxidants vs. Free Radicals
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by Michael Dye
AGE AND DISEASE: Our Health, Disease and "Old Age" Are Formed on the Molecular Battlefield of Antioxidants vs. Free Radicals
On the molecular battlefield of our bodies, we have billions of oxidized free radicals out to destroy our cells and alter our genetic material. These free radicals are contributing causes to more than 60 diseases, including heart attacks, cancer, as well as the wrinkles, stiff joints, varicose veins and hardened arteries of "old age."
Free radicals have received much publicity in recent years, as researchers continue to discover more and more diseases and disorders to which they can be linked. Those of you who are unfamiliar with free radicals will soon find a lot of "familiar faces" lurking in the background.
Free radicals have an unnatural molecular structure that is caused by unnatural forces such as pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation (including computers, televisions, microwave ovens, chemotherapy, X-rays, etc.), fried foods, cured meats, stress (mental, emotional and physical), pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Cigarette smoke, including passive smoke, puts billions of free radicals into our blood stream. Our unnatural environment and lifestyle has created an overabundance of free radicals that play a role in every degenerative disease known to man.
A partial list of the more than 60 diseases and disorders linked to free radicals include: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, AIDS, cancer, premature aging, collagen deterioration, varicose veins, arthritis, asthma, cataracts, retinitis, angina, rheumatism, cataracts, stress, jet lag, phlebitis, hemorrhoids, heart disease, stroke, senility, swollen extremities, kidney and liver disorders... just to name a few. (Free radicals are the same molecular structure that cause steel to rust and a sliced apple to turn brown.)
So, even if you thought you were unfamiliar with free radicals, you are very familiar with their causes and their effects. Now let's go back down to the molecular level to take a closer look at how free radicals alter the molecular structure of our body and destroy our cells... and how our body can defend against this life-threatening attack.
At the molecular level, we find an incredible real-life, high-stakes battle going on inside our body between antioxidant nutrients and free radicals. The drama of our very own molecules makes Star Wars -- or any of its Hollywood sequels, including Ronald Reagan's -- seem dull and insignificant in comparison.
A free radical is a molecule or molecular fragment with the spin of one electron that is not paired with a companion electron. This is a very hazardous, unnatural and unstable state, because electrons normally come in pairs. This odd, unpaired electron in a free radical causes it to collide with other molecules so it can steal an electron from them, which changes the structure of these other molecules and causes them to also become free radicals. This can create a self-perpetuating chain reaction in which the structure of millions of molecules are altered in a matter of nanoseconds (a nanosecond is a billionth of a second), reeking havoc with our DNA, protein molecules, enzymes and cells.
It would be impossible to overstate the role of free radicals in the creation of disease and old age. Dr. Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D., states, "Very few individuals, if any, reach their potential maximum life span; they die instead prematurely of a wide variety of diseases -- the vast majority being free radical diseases."
Our immune system has a means of defending against free radicals, but it is very easy for our body to find itself outnumbered. We can take in over a million free radicals in one breath. To defend against this massive onslaught of free radicals, we need an ample supply of antioxidant nutrients. Our immune system uses antioxidants to stabilize and eliminate free radicals. Antioxidants are able to give free radicals an electron, which becomes a companion to their unpaired electron, thus eliminating the threat of that free radical.
Just as it would be impossible to overstate potential damage from free radicals, in would be equally difficult to overstate our need for antioxidant nutrients. The most commonly known antioxidants are Vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene (which becomes Vitamin A in our bodies). Other nutrients, such as the minerals copper, selenium, zinc and manganese and certain amino acids, are considered antioxidant nutrients because they invigorate the body's own natural antioxidants.
Bioflavonoids are another significant category of antioxidant. Bioflavonoids can offer a double benefit to our immune system because in addition to eliminating free radicals, they also enhance our assimilation of Vitamin C.
The most potent antioxidant ever found is a bioflavonoid that has been given the trademark name of Pycnogenols (pronounced pick-NAH-gen-ols). Along with its ability to enhance the benefits of Vitamin C, Pycnogenols have been found in laboratory tests to be 50 times more effective in eliminating free radicals than Vitamin E and 20 times more effective than Vitamin C.
Even more impressive than these lab findings are the actual results from personal experience, medical studies and the reports of doctors who have recommended Pycnogenols to their patients. These results have shown Pycnogenols to be effective against an incredibly wide range of serious problems.
One reason Pycnogenols are such a potent antioxidant are their high degree of "bio-availability," a term that takes into account the body's ability to accept, assimilate and utilize specific types of nutrition. It doesn't matter how much nutrition is in a food, powder or pill, if it is not bio-available, it is useless.
Bioflavonoids, members of the flavonoid family, are plant substances recognized for their antioxidant properties and ability to inhibit inflammation. Bioflavonoids are what bring us the bright colors of pigmentation in fruits, vegetables and other plants. We lose the benefit of many bioflavonoids in our food because their value has been diminished or destroyed by premature harvesting, storage or processing. There are over 20,000 known bioflavonoids, but research in this area now focuses on a particular subgroup, "proanthocyanidins," which are nontoxic, water-soluble and highly bio-available bioflavonoids that are the active ingredient in Pycnogenols. Within 20 minutes of taking Pycnogenols, most of the proanthocyanidins are absorbed, and can be found in our saliva one hour after ingestion, which shows they are well-assimilated and dispersed. Other bioflavonoids are effective in the test tube in fighting antioxidants, but are not effective in the human body because they are not as bio-available.
Unlike many other flavonoids and bioflavonoids, Pycnogenols have proven to be extremely successful in both the test tube and in the human body. In one study of 47 people, a single 100-milligram supplement of Pycnogenols increased capillary resistance by 140 percent in 72 hours. Those given other flavonoids increased 56 percent, and a placebo group increased only 3 percent.
In a German study of 110 people with varicose veins, 77 percent showed a clear improvement on 90 milligrams a day of Pycnogenols. And of the 41 individuals in that group that had nightly leg cramps, 93 percent found improvement.
Pycnogenols have been licensed in France for years for treating diabetic retinopathy because tests found they have the ability to reduce "microbleeding" of the capillaries in the eye, and improve vision. Varicose veins, leg cramps and diabetic retinopathy are just three problems affected by enhanced capillary strength and resistance.
Capillaries are perhaps the most underestimated part of our circulatory system. Dr. Richard Passwater, Ph.D. emphasizes that in our circulatory system, the capillaries "are where the action takes place." He explains, "The sole function of the circulatory system is to exchange nutrients for waste products. The heart merely pumps the blood and the arteries and veins merely carry the blood. What is important -- but usually overlooked -- is that the capillaries allow the cells to live by exchanging nutrients for wastes."
A significant improvement of capillaries will help both the nourishment and detoxification of cells, which in turn can help every other function of the body.
Dr. Passwater lists four biochemical properties of proanthocyanidins in Pycnogenols: "free radical scavenging, collagen (a skin protein) binding, inhibition of inflammatory enzymes, and inhibition of histamine formation."
Collagen is a primary component of all structural parts of our body, including skin, ligaments, tendons, bones, blood vessels and capillaries, and the membranes that hold our body tissues and organs in place. Pycnogenols and Vitamin C bind to collagen fibers and help form "crosslinks," which keep collagen strong and prevents its fibers from separating. Wrinkled skin is the visible effect of the separation of fibers in collagen. Skin that is easy to bruise or bleed is another sign of weakening collagen.
Many find Pycnogenols to help with arthritis, partly due to its ability to eliminate free radicals involved in inflammation. Pycnogenols are recommended for athletes to improve joint flexibility and minimize inflammation and swelling in case of injuries.
In his booklet, The New Superantioxidant -- Plus, subtitled, The Amazing Story of Pycnogenol, Free-Radical Antagonist and Vitamin C Potentiator, Dr. Passwater offers a list of the "benefits of proanthocyanidins, demonstrated in many studies and decades of clinical experience." They include: "improves skin smoothness and elasticity; strengthens capillaries, arteries and veins; improves circulation and enhances cell vitality; reduces capillary fragility and improves resistance to bruising and strokes; reduces risk of phlebitis; reduces varicose veins; reduces edema and swelling of the legs; helps restless-leg syndrome, reduces diabetic retinopathy; improves visual acuity; helps improve sluggish memory; reduces the effects of stress; improves joint flexibility; and fights inflammation in arthritis and sports injuries."
Pycnogenols are relatively new in the United States, but have been available in Europe and other countries since 1969. Over 1,000 studies have been conducted to document their safety, absorption and bio-availability. More than four million doses of Pycnogenols are taken every day around the world.
Dr. David White of the University of Nottingham (England) conducted research on the ability of Pycnogenols to reduce cholesterol. He called Pycnogenols "the atherosclerosis antidote." In Finland, Pycnogenols are used widely as a successful means of controlling hay fever. The French are able to purchase Pycnogenols with health insurance. Many women throughout the world use Pycnogenols as an "oral cosmetic," to prevent wrinkles and keep their skin soft and smooth. European scientists have dubbed Pycnogenols as "the youth nutrient" because its free radical scavenging ability slows the process of cell mutation that brings on old age.
In the fight against cancer, Pycnogenols have been shown to inhibit tumor production in the skin, reduce cell mutation and guard against some of the carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoke. Dr. Stewart Brown of England found Pycnogenols' ability to reduce free radicals to be very effective in slowing cell mutagenesis.
Unlike most antioxidants, Pycnogenols have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, which can improve memory, help reduce mental stress and offer protection against senility. This ability to cross the blood-brain barrier is believed to be the reason why Pycnogenols have been reported to help some people with Alzheimer's and Attention Deficit Disorder, both of which are otherwise untreatable.
Pycnogenols have another advantage in that they stay in our system much longer than vitamins C and E. Pycnogenols stay in our body for about 72 hours, after which they start to be eliminated (along with the free radicals they have neutralized) through urine and perspiration.
But rather than arguing about the superiority of one antioxidant over another, many experts in the field emphasize we should provide our body with a wide range of all the known major antioxidants.
Dr. Richard Passwater has studied free radicals for 30 years, and it was he who first brought the terms "free radicals" and "antioxidants" to the public's attention in 1971. He was the first to expose the connection between free radicals and cancer in 1973, and the first to show a link between free radicals and heart disease in 1977.
Dr. Passwater explains the need for an ample supply of all the major antioxidants, and gives a specific example of how Pycnogenols and Vitamins A and C work together in "synergism" to reach their full potential. He writes: "After 30 years, I find that the best protection against the deleterious effects of free radicals is a combination of natural antioxidant nutrients. The various antioxidant nutrients work together. Some antioxidants can protect body components not reachable by other antioxidants. Some antioxidants protect other antioxidants, and in some cases can regenerate other antioxidants. The proanthocyanadin bioflavonoids can protect vitamin C, and vitamin C can regenerate vitamin E that has already been 'spent' by sacrificing itself to free radicals... Some studies show that these bioflavonoids are more potent free radicals scavengers than either vitamin C or vitamin E, but this is less relevant than it might seem. It is not a matter of potency only, but of complete protection, safety and stability. You need all the important antioxidant nutrients. It would be foolish to rely on vitamin E or vitamin C or bioflavonoids alone. The combination is needed for synergism."
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